the hero of our story
The day before my “due date.” Effie crawls into bed with us at 2 am. I begin to notice what I thought were crampy Braxton Hicks. By the time Nik leaves for an early morning bake shift an hour and a half later, I’m not comfy sleeping through the rhythm and rising intensity of the waves. I eat a protein bar, drink a coconut water, sway in the kitchen, vocalize my breaths through each wave. I know that I’m in labor. I let Nik know and he promises to be home by 6 am. I keep my mom on call in case I need help with Effie and Lola before then and I give my doula a heads up as well.
I shower, rest between waves, smile, remain calm, trust excitedly in my body and my baby. Nik arrives home just as the girls are waking up. He encourages me softly through each wave. “You’re doing great, mama. I’m so proud of you.” I tell the girls that their brother is on his way and that I don’t want them to be afraid if I seem a little funny. Effie is thrilled by my vocalizations and begins howling along with me, even offering me her hand to hold. Nik preps labor food, I continue flowing through waves, I give our nurse-midwives a call, I plan to keep on going about my day.
Before lunch, my mom picks up the girls. Throughout the day, she sends me Ina May Gaskin quotes and photos of the girls. One of them eating popsicles in a rocket ship they crafted from cardboard, the other of them climbing a big oak tree.
Nik supports me through waves, makes me laugh, helps keep me fed and hydrated. After lunch, we lie down together. I continue to breathe through strong waves but am hopeful that I may be able to rest in between. I fall asleep. When I wake up, my body seems to have slowed down. Our doula comes over with encouragement and recommendations for better aligning my pelvis with the baby’s head.
When she leaves, Nik takes me out to dinner and we pick up the girls from my mom’s. I read them Stewart Little to sleep and now I lie in my bed writing. The waves come slowly now but are increasing once again in intensity. I honor this downtime for rest, knowing I will need it, knowing that I am not far from meeting my son. Patience is my mantra.
I have a big cry in Nik's arms. I am afraid, I am tired. Nik tells me that I am doing nothing wrong. He reminds me that my body has never done this before. He suggests that maybe Oak is a gentle lover, like me, and we are going slow, taking our time, and easing into labor so that it isn't so hard on either of our bodies. I cry for my own disappointment, for my desire to finish this marathon and hold my baby in my arms.
I was so certain that he would be here by now, but still, I wait. I go about my days. I breathe, I walk, I talk with Nik and the girls, my doula visits with essential oils, flower essences, crystal cards, a tens unit, massage, exercises, and shoe shopping conversation. I nap in the backyard, Nik repots plants, we soak our feet in the kiddie pool, I read, I write, we watch the new season of GLOW on Netflix, we make love, we shower, I take baths, we unpack and repack our things for the hospital, we wait.
For five days and four nights, we have been laboring at home. When the sun is in the sky the contractions slow, and once it sets they come in waves that are stronger and harder each night.
Labor has been a mind game. It is a practice in waiting, in not letting myself get in the way, in quieting the what if's. I am overwhelmed by the support that surrounds me. I am grateful for all of the loving messages, for my mother helping with Effie and Lola, for my doula's guidance, for my birth photographer's patience, for Nik steady and constant by my side holding me through waves, exhaustion, and big cries.
Despite this outpouring of love, I have felt like I am letting everyone down. Like I am expected to perform this incredible task yet my body isn't capable of accomplishing it. I have felt like a failure, a letdown. My phone is full of kind texts checking in, sending love, and I can't respond to them.
I feel like hiding, keeping my walls up, isolating myself in this birth cave. Everyone is holding me, reassuring me. Even so, my body and mind are growing tired from this game, this labyrinth, this wild journey. A tenderness has washed over me. A vulnerability rawer than I have ever felt. A true surrender. I am in waiting for active labor, for my waters to break. I am praying. To all my female ancestors, to all female mammals, to all mothers. My palms are pressed together.
I call my nurse-midwife from an Epsom salt bath. "Sam," I say, "hi." She can hear the melancholy in my voice.
Last night, Nik and I called my mom in the wee hours of the morning to be with the girls. We had been up all night, contractions were coming closer together and growing in intensity. My mom arrived and we left for the hospital, tired and hopeful. When the nurse checked me I was crestfallen to learn that I hadn't progressed since my last nurse-midwife appointment the previous Tuesday. We were sent home to continue riding it out.
"Don't be disappointed," Sam reassures me over the phone. "There is nothing wrong with your body. Some women experience prolonged latent labor periods. It is okay. I still want to give your body time to go into spontaneous labor. You're doing great. Hang in there, Anna."
I thank her for her kind words and trust in my body moving through the process naturally. I slip out of the tub. Nik is napping, feverish from a tooth infection.
My doula Heather comes over around 6 pm. She heats up massaman curry for me in a pan on the stove. I sit on a yoga ball at the kitchen table and eat it. It's her second time at the house that day. Earlier, she came over and did exercises with me, hoping to ease my body into active labor.
"I just have a feeling active labor is going to start today," Heather said when she first came over. "I woke up this morning with a strong sense."
I appreciate her words but don't consider them too deeply. I'm tired from my week of laboring and a little weary in spirit. I throw up my food into the toilet almost immediately after eating. "Okay," I think to myself, "I am going to do this. It is time."
My contractions come closer together. Heather encourages me to drink iced red raspberry leaf tea. We walk around the yard. I throw up in the grass. The world turns sort of hazy. Night falls. I rest on the couch with a pillow between my knees. I get up when a contraction begins. I walk, rock, and sway. At some point, I begin breathing through song, a coping mechanism I am not conscious of practicing, one that my body performs all on its own.
I sit on the toilet. I walk to the kitchen. I take a sip of water. I sit on a yoga ball. I rock on my hands and knees. I walk outside and look up at the stars. "My body is doing this, Oak is doing this, I am surrendered to this moment," I think. I sing my song. I sing, sing, sing. I keep cycling through these movements.
Heather times my contractions and rests on a yoga mat on the floor. Nik comes out of the bedroom. I hear he and Heather talking. "It's time," Heather tells Nik. Though we're all in the same room, they seem very far away from me. Their voices are distant as they pack the car. I've been naked for hours and Heather tells me to throw some clothes on. I dress in a pair of Nik's boxers and a t-shirt knotted above my belly. I wrap a blanket around my shoulders and put on a pair of pool slide sandals because my Birkenstocks feel too heavy on my feet. I kick the sandals off every time I have a contraction.
Heather drives me to the hospital. I sit in the front seat on my knees, hanging on to the handle above the door, singing my song when a contraction comes. Heather keeps the windows down and I love the feeling of the cool air. When we arrive it is about 3 am. The nurse, the same as Nik and I saw the previous night, checks me and I am 4 centimeters dilated. This grants me an admission. We walk across the hall to room 101. I am hooked up to a wireless monitor, I sit on a yoga ball and rest my head on the bed between contractions, I walk around, irritable, tired, hungry, slightly put off by the wires and beeping, missing my backyard and the stars. My nurse-midwife Sam arrives and she is so excited. "Oh, I was hoping I would get a call for you. Good job, mama."
When Nik walks into the room my contractions are raging. I take a hot shower though I hate the feeling of the water touching my body. I can't stand any touch or talk. I want to scratch everybody's eyes out. I am in a private battle with my body. I am exhausted and overwhelmed.
I was staunchly convicted to labor naturally the whole way through but when Sam delicately asks about an epidural I thank her for opening the dialogue and tell her that I want the relief. I am scared to tell Heather (who is a fierce natural birth advocate) but when I do she reminds me of a segment from our birth class where she discussed the compassionate use of pain medication. "I think that it's appropriate to use when you are just suffering," Heather said. "You have labored for so long and are exhausted and still have a lot of work ahead of you." I am grateful for her reassurance. Nik holds me while I get the epidural. Once I'm settled in bed with it, hoping to get a few hours of sleep, I miss Nik desperately. I've been edgy with him during my long labor and it's the first time since my contractions started that I really want to kiss him and slow down and talk to him. I fall asleep in bed, Heather sleeps on the couch, Nik sleeps on the yoga mat on the floor.
I awake to an intense pressure in my bottom. I can feel that my waters have broken and that I will need to push soon. I alert Sam and ask Nik to text our photographer. When I begin pushing I feel like my body is breaking in half. I begin pushing on my back with Nik and Heather holding my knees. Sam tells me that she can see the baby's head and shows Nik. Heather starts taking photographs. The pressure is so intense. I keep pushing but feel nothing is happening. Sam brings a squatting bar in and I push squatting for several moments before ripping off the hospital gown that I was dressed in to receive my epidural. Then I transition to hands and knees. For me, this was the most intense part of labor. I push and scream and plead. I can feel the baby moving down my body and the sensation freaks me out. I desperately want him out. Sam's voice is the only one I hear. She gently guides me through pushing and encourages me. I hear our photographer arrive. I hear Sam tell Nik to get ready to catch the baby. I feel that I will never get him out but I inhale sharply, hold my breath, and push. Oak slips into Nik's hands screaming. I turn around and Nik hands him to me. I can't believe how much dark hair he has, how beautiful he is. Nik is crying. Sam is smiling. I am so relieved.
His name is Oak Hero Johnson. He is born almost a week after I felt my first contraction. At 2:34 pm in the afternoon. A little bruised from the journey, he came in at a whopping 8 pounds 13 ounces. Nik and I are completely bewildered by our love for this wise (not so little) dude and his wild head of black hair. I am so proud of my body for powering through the VBAC of my dreams. I am so grateful for the prayers, my doula, midwife, and baby daddy helping to see me through.